Phil Housley was drafted 6th overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres directly out of high school. That year, he made his NHL debut on October 6 against the Quebec Nordiques. Ten nights later, he scored his first goal against the Washington Capitals. Housley played 77 games that rookie season and scored 66 points and was named to the NHL's All-Rookie Team. He was also the runner-up for the Calder Trophy to Chicago's Steve Larmer. In 1983-84, Housley improved to 31 goals and 77 points and played in the mid-season All-Star Game
In 1987-88, Housley set a team record with 29 goals from the blueline. When he scored 31 goals in 1983-84, he also played forward, where some of his goals were credited. In 1988-89, he recorded 70 points, which was a team record by a defenceman and also played in his second All-Star Game. In 1989-90, Housley continued to assault the Sabres' record book, setting new marks with 60 assists and 81 points by a defenceman.
On June 16, 1990, Housley was traded with Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker, and a first-round draft pick to the Winnipeg Jets for Dale Hawerchuk, a first-round draft pick, and future considerations. That season, Housley led the Jets with 53 assists and 76 points. He also played in the mid-season All-Star Game. In 1991-92, he led the Jets with 63 assists and 86 points and played in his fourth straight All-Star Game. At season's end, he was named a Second Team All-Star and finished third in the voting for the Norris Trophy. In 1992-93, Housley scored a career-high 79 assists and 97 points and played in his fifth straight All-Star Game. His 97 points set a franchise record for defencemen.
Housley was traded to the St. Louis Blues for Scott Arniel and Stephane Quintal on September 24, 1993. He played 26 games that season and scored 22 points. His stay with the Blues was short-lived as he was traded on July 4, 1994 with two draft picks to the Calgary Flames for Al MacInnis and a draft pick. In that shortened 1994-95 campaign, Housley led the team with 35 assists. In 1995-96, he was traded on February 26 with Dan Keczmer to the New Jersey Devils for Tommy Albelin, Cale Hulse and Jocelyn Lemieux. In 81 games between the two teams, he scored 68 points.
On July 22, 1996, Housley signed as a free agent with the Washington Capitals. That season, he scored 40 points in 77 games. In 1997-98, he scored 31 points in 64 games. In the playoffs, he helped the Capitals win the Prince of Wales Trophy in the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals.
Housley was claimed on waivers by the Calgary Flames during the summer of 1998. That season, he had 54 points and led the team with 43 assists. In 1999-2000, he scored 55 points on the Flames blueline during the regular season and played in his 1,300th game on October 29. On September 28, 2001, Housley was claimed on waivers by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Housley went on to spend the better part of two seasons with the Hawks' while capturing a Silver Medal representing the U.S. at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City before he was acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2003 trading deadline. Following only a brief stint with Toronto, Housley became a free-agent in the summer of 2003 and subsequently retired from competitive play in January 2004.